Tomorrow, Uzbekistan national team will play their Asian Qualifiers match against China at Wuhan Sports Center Stadium in Wuhan. The White Wolves have a great opportunity to earn a spot in 2018 World Cup Russia if they achieve victories in the upcoming two matches against China and South Korea.
Ahead of these fierce battles, Titan Sports Media and Sports.uz Information Portal cooperated to conduct an interview with the captain of Uzbekistan national team, Odil Ahmedov, who is currently playing in Shanghai SIPG in Chinese Super League.
You have a solid knowledge about the level of China and Uzbekistan national team. From your perspective, how do you see and analyze the upcoming China vs Uzbekistan match?
It will be very decisive game for both national teams. Under the coaching of Lippi, who is one of the world's best coach, the Chinese team is preparing. In theory, Chinese team also have an opportunity to get the third place in Group A, to win the playoff qualification. But, we take into account the results of other games, even the Chinese team's victories in two games cannot guarantee the third place. And for us, everything in our own hands, which means that we should win the remaining two games and we can go to Russia next year. All of our players are aware of the current situation of our team, in the case of only two games, the team cannot make a mistake anymore, and any mistakes could not be corrected. We hope we can win the upcoming matches and will make a debut in the FIFA World Cup.
How do you feel right now for the upcoming match? And what about your teammates in the Uzbekistan national team? Are they in good form?
Each football player should prepare for every single match well. If we speak about the national team, the preparation must be perfect. You should do your best to make a progress or gain a victory for your national team in every match. All the players have been preparing for the upcoming two matches against China and South Korea in a good mood. We hope we achieve positive results in both matches and the dreams of our nation will come true.
In the two matches between Uzbekistan and China, one in 2011 Asian Cup (Uzbekistan 2:2 China) and the other one in 2015 Asian Cup (Uzbekistan 1:2 China), you scored in both matches. Does that mean you know the secrets of how to score against China?
As a player, I entered the stadium to win the game, victory can make me feel happy, so, I can enjoy and celebrate the victory with your teammates. If you score a goal in this game, it will double your happiness. However, my goals scored (against China) don’t mean that I know the secret how to score into the China’s net. Just, I had a good opportunity to score and I made a goal in both matches (in 2011 and 2015). For me, it doesn’t matter who scores a goal, the most important thing is a victory over opponent teams.
What do you think about the weaknesses of China national team?
Each team has advantages and weaknesses, both of which will be reflected in the game. When we look at the opponent's video, we will discuss their strengths and weaknesses. But now I cannot say what the strengths and weaknesses of the Chinese team, which will be reflected in the game on Thursday.
You will face a lot of your teammates and opponents in the game. Who will be the most threatening figure of the Chinese team?
The Chinese team has a lot of outstanding, experienced players, but when it comes to the most threatening players, he should be my club teammate Wu Lei.
You have also two compatriots in Chinese Super League. Do you talk or exchange ideas about China in the training? Did you provide any information useful to the coaching staff about Chinese players?
Of course, as the only few players in China to play, we will exchange views on the Chinese team. We will certainly provide information about Chinese players to our coaching staff as this information is very useful to plan some tactics or strategies against Chinese players.
In China, many fans compare you to Zheng Zhi (The captain of China and Guangzhou Evergrande). You two play in the same position and both of you are captains and the most famous stars of these teams. The match on Aug. 31st would be the most important duel between you two. What do you think of this comparison and the duel between you and Zheng Zhi?
It is just a comparison or thought of the Chinese fans or media. Thursday's game is not my personal battle and Zheng Zhi, but China and Uzbekistan teams. After the game, we can evaluate who is better.
How do you see the situation of this group? In the 2014 World Cup Qualification Round, Uzbekistan was also drawn in the group with Iran and South Korea and you were 3rd in the group last time, but failed in the playoff against Jordan.
If Uzbekistan national team defeat China on 31st, you would have a considerable chance to qualify to the 2018 World Cup direct (without playoff). Right now, is this a great chance for you to qualify for World Cup for the first time in the history of Uzbekistan? And is this a better chance than 2014 World Cup qualifying?
Now, every team in the group is at least hope to be able to enter the playoffs. First of all, we have to beat China, then, we may consider South Korea. Everything depends on us, if we show a great performance during these games and win both of them, nothing can stop us to get qualified to World Cup. Only two victories can realize our ambitions.
Four years ago, we wanted to beat South Korea and Qatar in the last two games. And now, we are facing the same situation as we had in 2014.
According to the new rule of the Chinese league, the number of foreign players who are allowed to play in a single match is 3 rather than 4. It means that, you have to compete with players like Oscar, Hulk, Elkeson and Ricardo Carvalho for a chance to play in Shanghai SIPG.
What do you think of such intensive competition? How is your relationship with your teammates, particularly these 4 foreign players? How do you think of your teammates?
In order to improve the level of Chinese football, the Chinese Football Association issued this policy, so our coaching staff is also helpless. In this case, the coach is more stressful than our players, because the coach's signings program based on the last edition of foreign player policy. After the applying new policy, the coaching staff had to make a temporary response.
The competition between the team's foreign players is fierce, but I do not think this will allow the team to progress because the competition should be on the team among all the players, but not only foreign players. For me, whether it is among foreign or Chinese players, I have to maintain a good relationship, the team's atmosphere is very good. there is a great environment in our club.
Though there are only 3 foreign players could play among the 5 foreign players in Shanghai SIPG. For most cases, you got the chances to play in league matches and became the winners in the competition with other foreign players. How did you achieve this?
You shouldn’t stop working (or training) hard whether you are in the starting XI or not. You should continue on progress. One day, it will provide you a success, a great success.
In the Asian Champions League match, Shanghai SIPG stunned Guangzhou Evergrande with a 4-0 victory. What do you think of this match?
In the past few matches, the team lost some points, so we put the main focus on the AFC and FA Cup because in these two events we still have a chance to win. At that time, everyone knew the situation of the team, so (back to battle) beat Guangzhou Evergrande, I hope we can still win in the second leg of the game.
What do you think of the future of Shanghai SIPG this season? Can they achieve titles in Chinese Super League, Asian Champions League, and China FA Cup?
At the beginning of the season, our goal is to become the Triple Crown. Now, we have a chance to win the AFC Champions League and FA Cup, as I said earlier, we lost some points in the league, so it seems more difficult to win in the league.
Will you stay in Shanghai SIPG after the end of this season?
I signed a three-year contract with Shanghai SIPG, but this does not guarantee that the future will be better or worse than it is now. At least for myself, my plan is to stay in the Hong Kong team and give my best for the success of my team.
What do you think of the level of the Chinese Super League in Asia?
I can say that Chinese Super League has a great status in Asian football. It is getting developed and its popularity is getting increased year by year. Each club has at least three more experienced foreign players who have the ability to motivate, exchange their ideas or experience with Chinese players. I comment on the current level of CSL that it is one of the best football leagues in Asia.
Similar to the development of football in Uzbekistan, the government has played an important role in the development of football in China particularly in recent years. Based upon your understanding and your experiences in these countries, how do you see the future of football in China and Uzbekistan?
China is now focusing on the development of youth football, managers have established a plan to start by developing grassroots youth training to improve the level of football, so I can say that Chinese football will make great progress, and in 5 to 10 years.
In Uzbekistan, youth training is also the focus of the work of managers. At the government level, there have been many plans to develop and improve the level of youth football. If you want to make the plan better implemented, you need a group of experienced coaches who are able to communicate with the younger generation.